“Epic Mickey” for the Wii is a fun game that, despite its enjoyable game play, still manages to be mostly a tale of wasted potential. I say this from two points of view: both as a gamer thrilled by the early edgy concept art, and as a blogger for a family website determining its appropriateness for children.
Nothing in “Epic Mickey” should frighten either the kids playing the game or their parents questioning its suitability. It’s not too scary or violent; in fact, the morality system allows for a non-violent option when facing enemies.
Mickey wields a paintbrush and with it he can either unleash restorative paint or destructive thinner upon not only the bad guys, but also most of the physical objects in the world around him. A few of the game puzzles require Mickey to thin his way through walls, but for the most part Mickey has a choice whether to build or tear down.
If Mickey unleashes paint upon his enemies it turns them into friends. One could debate, philosophically, that this isn’t any more moral than destroying them with thinner – by using the paint Mickey is brainwashing them, overriding their free will to force them onto his side. But that’s an abstract question for adults to debate. Within the structure of the game play it’s the good option, teaching children that they should try to befriend those with whom they don’t get along, rather than fight them.
The wasted potential of “Epic Mickey” from a gamer’s standpoint is that it’s too softened; at first the game looked like it would take place in a robotic steam punk alterna-Disneyland; instead, we just see one that looks a little run down and shabby. It could have been cooler, and I don’t think allowing it to be so would have made it any less appropriate for family audiences. What’s more likely is Disney didn’t want to make its characters and parks so edgy, and that’s fine.
The toning down of early potential is also what’s disappointing about the game from a family blogger perspective. When I first heard and posted about the game I said that the morality system – choosing to either help characters and lose material gain, or following personal greed over aiding others – would change the outcome of the game. A hero Mickey would glow and a selfish Mickey would begin to grow hunched and haggard in appearance, more monster than mouse. The game’s ending would reflect Mickey’s choices.
The former was removed from the game; Mickey looks the same no matter what you do. For the latter, I made paint (or hero)-based choices throughout my play so I got the good ending, but I watched the alternative ending on YouTube. There’s very little difference; the positive points I most wanted to achieve throughout the game were awarded to players following either path. A short montage of scenes showing the fates of some of the game’s characters is the only difference; their lives improve when Mickey follows his paint path, and they suffer if he doesn’t.
I wish the morality system had more effect on the overall story and its ending, especially because without it there isn’t really a clear moral message for kids in the game, which is one of the things the family blogger in me was most excited about. As for the game play itself, it had some glitches with the camera system, but overall was pretty well balanced between puzzles, fetch quests, and platforming. Basically, there’s a little something for everyone. “Epic Mickey” could have been a lot more, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t, but the final product is still a good game for both kids and adults.